Why an Athlete Should Consult with a Registered Dietitian – by Katie Elliott, MS, RD

March is quickly winding down, which means National Nutrition Month is also coming to a close. Prior to the conclusion of this 31-day health fest, I wanted to talk a little bit about the nutrition experts, Registered Dietitians (RD/RDN). More specifically, I want explain what those letters mean and why it makes sense for athletes invest to in a nutrition consultation with an RD/RDN.

What are Registered Dietitians (RD’s or RDN’s)?

Registered Dietitians are considered the leading experts in nutrition, food science and nutrition education in the US. The credential Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) are interchangeable and mean exactly the same thing. Practitioners are allowed to use either title legally. To earn the legal, medical credential RD/RDN, a person must:

  1. Complete the minimum of a Baccalaureate degree at an accredited college or university (this includes extensive work in Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy & Physiology and other core sciences). Of note, by 2024, Registered Dietitians will also have to hold a Master’s degree or a Doctoral Degree to received the RD/RDN credential. At present, roughly half of all dietitians already hold advanced degrees.[1]
  2. Complete an accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics including courses in Metabolism, Medical Nutrition Therapy, Advanced Food Science, Community Nutrition, Food Service Systems and more.
  3. Complete an accredited supervised practice program (7-month to 1-year internship) with rotations in clinical, community and food service nutrition.
  4. Pass the Registration Examination for Dietitians
  5. Complete continuing education requirements for recertification
  6. Pay the annual registration fee[2]

Registered Dietitians can also become board certified in specialties. For instance, C.S.S.D is the credential for sports dietitians, who are board certified. These certifications require practitioners to be credentialed for 2 years at minimum, complete at least 1500 specialty practice hours and pass an exam. That said, looking for a dietitian, who also has a CSSD makes sense for athletes. Board Certification is important and I, personally, can’t wait to take my CSSD exam in February of 2019 after I have been officially credentialed for 2 years!

What’s the difference between a Registered Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

This is where things become confusing for people who don’t happen to work in the medical field. Basically, the RD/RDN letters designate a legally recognized, medical credential.  However, in some states anyone can call themselves a nutritionist or a nutrition expert without any experience, formal education or credentials. Basically, if you go to a nutritionist, who is not credentialed as an RD, they won’t have gone through the same education, internship experience or examination process.

They may have a passion for nutrition and be self-taught or they may have just gone to a weekend seminar. There is a range of expertise out there. However, if you seek the help of an RD, you know that they have the background in the science of nutrition, have gone through formal training and have the experience to offer informed advice. Thus, Registered Dietitians can refer to themselves as nutritionists, but not all nutritionists can call themselves Registered Dietitians.

Why should athletes invest in a nutrition consultation with a Registered Dietitian?

We’ve covered the meaning of the RD/RDN credential, so you understand why these letters are important. But what are the key reasons to spend your hard earned money on a Registered Dietitian?

You want to get the most out of your sports performance

Sports nutrition can be a weapon or a distinct disadvantage come race day. Nailing your nutrition will ensure that you are ready to tackle key workouts and races and are optimizing your training. For example, are you recovering adequately? Are you meeting your body composition goals in a healthy way? Are you getting the nutrients you need to perform at your best? These questions are best addressed by dietitians, who specialize in sports.

Your relationship with food needs some work

Food and, specifically body composition targets, can be a huge source of stress and anxiety for athletes. Disordered eating and clinical eating disorders can harm performance and derail careers. Whether you want to take the worry out of eating or you need to work towards normal eating, working with a Registered Dietitian is a step in the right direction.

An individualized plan is important to you

Let’s face it. There is no one single eating plan that will work for every person. Perhaps you are a vegetarian or a vegan. Perhaps you have foods you love and others you hate. Working with a dietitian is a great way to create a way of eating that is individualized to your needs, sport, preferences, cultural beliefs and ethos.

You have food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies

It is difficult to navigate food environments when you have an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance. As athletes, we travel to races, eat with teams, have to deal with fueling races and must maintain our sanity at the same time. An RD/RDN can help make this easier by offering suggestions, helping to create a nutritionally-sound eating plan and offering strategies to handle the most challenging food situations.

You deal with GI Distress or Reflux

Athletics can take a toll on an athlete’s gastrointestinal system. Between fueling workouts and races, working out at high intensities and managing numerous training sessions, the gut can get mad. A Registered Dietitian can help you come up with solutions to avoid the porta-potty tour during races or manage/alleviate acid reflux.

You have a chronic condition

If you look around, you will find athletes dealing with many different conditions while continuing to compete. Athletes with chronic diseases such as hyperlipidemia, Diabetes and high blood pressure can work with a dietitian to be able to enjoy sports and concurrently optimize their health.

You want to optimize your health and wellness

Let’s face it, nutrition can make a big difference in your health or lack thereof. Athletes aren’t immune to health issues either. Make sure that your habits and lifestyle are helping you to prevent chronic disease by consulting with an RD/RDN.

These are just a few reasons scheduling an appointment with a sports RD/RDN makes sense. Here is a link that you can use to find a dietitian in your area: EAT RIGHT. At present, many sports dietitians are also offering telehealth options. This means you can more easily find a practitioner, who specializes in sports dietetics and has experience with your specific sport. Telehealth is generally done through HIPAA compliant video chat and has the added benefit of saving you a drive to an office. Any way you slice it, investing in a nutrition consultation with a qualified dietitian is money well spent.

[1] Wolfram, Taylor. (2018). What an RDN Can Do for You. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from: https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/learn-more-about-rdns/what-an-rdn-can-do-for-you
[2] Commission on Dietetic Registration. (2018). Who is a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Retrieved from: https://www.cdrnet.org/about/who-is-a-registered-dietitian-rd.


Katie Elliott is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She is the founder of Elliott Performance and Nutrition, based in Aspen, Colorado. Katie works with clients nationwide via tele-health and provides counseling and exercise testing at Achieve Health and Performance.

Katie’s specialties include sports nutrition, nutrition for the prevention and treatment of disease, weight loss, and worksite wellness. She has coached athletes to several podium finishes as a Triathlon Coach.

In addition, Katie attended IMG Academies as a junior tennis player. She played Division I tennis at Davidson College.  She has competed on numerous amateur world triathlon teams. Since 2004, Katie has won numerous overall amateur titles. She has been on 6 World Championship teams and has finished 2nd at two National Championships. Furthermore, Katie achieved a 6th place finish at the World Championship in her age group.

Contact her here: Katie Elliott, MS, RD.

All bloggers receive a small compensation for their contributions.*

One comment on “Why an Athlete Should Consult with a Registered Dietitian – by Katie Elliott, MS, RD

  1. I like it Katie, how you stated that the goal of nutrition coaching is to motivate real changes that bring benefits. I think this would be especially helpful for someone like my wife who is learning to cope with diabetes.

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